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White House Previews Local Impacts of Sequester

Getty Images/Comstock Images(WASHINGTON) -- The National Governors Association’s winter meeting is under way in the nation’s capital, and while President Obama hosted the state executives for their annual black-tie dinner in the White House on Sunday, his administration is pushing a new angle over the partisan bickering around the sequester: how it relates to individual states.

Four days remain for Congress to agree to a deficit-reduction deal that would avoid triggering the $85 billion package of automatic cuts that would be split among the federal government over seven months, half from the Defense Department.  There has been little public indication that lawmakers are in serious negotiations to avoid the deadline.

Tables released by the White House on Sunday indicate each state would receive penalties to mostly similar programs, including meal assistance for seniors and law enforcement grants.  But the release is tailored to outline the individual impact to each state in the union.

In a sample from military-heavy Virginia, “90,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $648.4 million in total.”

The document also says maintenance on 11 Navy vessels serviced in Old Dominion would be cancelled under the cuts.

Three-hundred disadvantaged children in Colorado could lose access to child care.  Meanwhile in Louisiana, “1,730 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $118,000,” it reads.

That state’s governor, Bobby Jindal, is the head of the Republican Governors Association and was one of the state executives present at the White House dinner.  Earlier Sunday morning, he accused the administration of fear mongering, rather than focusing on the issue at hand.

“It’s time to stop campaigning,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press.  “Stop sending out your cabinet secretaries to scare the American people.  Roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of governing.”

The governor, a fierce opponent of the president’s healthcare agenda, suggested tweaks to the Affordable Care Act would be a good starting point to meet the debt goal.

“Just delay the Medicaid expansions, delay the health care exchanges so they can work with states on waivers, on flexibility.  You could save tens of billions of dollars there by -- and you’re not even cutting a program that’s started yet. Just delay it for a few years,” he said.

With few exceptions, the sequestration law makes across-the-board cuts to all government departments, with each individual program taking a hit of between 5 percent and 7 percent.  But as written, it does not allow those departments to reallocate funding between individual programs.

For example the Federal Aviation Administration says it stands to furlough the bulk of its 47,000 employees, including large numbers of air traffic controllers.  Yet the FAA would not be able to take money from another program and dump it into the one that manages those air traffic controllers to offset the slashed budget.

That may not mean the resulting cuts aren’t salvageable.  Economist Doug Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, says that at the end of the day sound management could minimize the impact.

“Take defense for example.  We’re going to have to, at the present plan, furlough defense workers for roughly 22 days over the next six months roughly one day a week.  You could do that by giving everybody Friday off, but Fridays would be a bad day for producing defense services.  Or you could spread that out and have some people on Mondays, some on Tuesdays, some on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” he told ABC News.  “Manage the workflow to try to deliver what you need in terms of running the Pentagon and the effects would be a lot smaller.

Holtz-Eakin, who also advised Sen. John McCain during his 2008 presidential run, said the impacts would be “real” but may not be immediately recognizable for months.

“They’re going to be slow,” he said.  “They’re going to have the ability to manage the impacts and where possible states can pick up the slack.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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